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How to Become Empowered and Actualize Your Possibilities

How to Become Empowered and Actualize Your Possibilities

The discovery of the self is a lifelong process which takes place between two worlds; internal and external. At first, finding your moral and ethical place in the world—or even your high school—can be overwhelming, being so focused on your internal, adolescent self. But as you absorb and experience new things, your cognitive functions become more cosmopolitan, allowing you to perceive the context of your bubble of reality within The Big Picture. This might make you feel like an insignificant stepper in the “Grand March” of history, but distinguishing the details of your individual identity (i.e. unique circumstances, emotional associations, semantic idiosyncrasies) is the first step to facing life with more confidence and optimism, becoming more spontaneous and ambitious, while actualizing your possibilities.

Do Not Compare Yourself to Others

“Our lives look a lot more interesting when they’re filtered through the sexy Facebook interface. We star in our own movies, we photograph ourselves incessantly, we click the mouse and a machine confirms our sense of mastery.” -Jonathan Franzen

Remember this: Every human being is equal and unique, born into varying circumstances, locations, and times. Facebook—and the rest of social media—is a crude, passive tool for forming and maintaining social connections; while it is handy for travelers and “a more connected world,” developing an online identity can disfigure your real one—becoming more narcissistic, self-critical, or envious. It is unfair to compare your internal life with the “highlight reel” on someone else’s timeline, and you never know what is hidden beneath their surface.

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Respect Your (Real) Friendships

“Even the smallest person can change the course of history.” -J.R.R. Tolkien

Between Tweeting like a celebrity and scanning Netflix in obscurity, your friends will always remind you that your life really does matter—if it doesn’t to you, it does to them. In a way, your friends see you more clearly than you can ever see yourself: have fun, be honest and sympathetic, and express yourself without fear of judgment. Friendship is an ancient and legendary bond: without it, you can forget how incredible, quirky, and valuable your life is.

Learn from the Past, Plan for the Future, but Live in the Present

“You shouldn’t chase after the past or place expectations on the future. What is past is left behind. The future is as yet unreached. Whatever quality is present you clearly see right there, right there.” -Buddha

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While you ruminate on the past or the future, remember that each time you recall a memory, you recreate it: the more you return to certain memories, the more distorted they may be. Regret often exaggerates the magnitude of past mistakes and the fear of future ones. This may prove that emotional stress can cloud your working memory—which strongly correlates to your IQ—and cause your worldview to become pessimistic and vague. You can escape the pressures of another time by accepting and immersing yourself in the present, no matter where you are.

Be Secure Enough to Change

“Maybe the most under-appreciated thing about Steve [Jobs] was that he had the courage to change his mind.” -Tim Cook, Apple CEO

As you stumble onward in your journey, you will find that life is full of contradiction and paradox—and so are you. Though your brain tends to dislike the dissonance produced by conflicting ideas, many of our choices are the lesser of two (or more) evils. No one is perfect, and the heroes among us make the best of their mistakes by learning from them without feeling personally attacked or being hypersensitive to criticism.

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Trust Your Judgment, Act Accordingly

“Centuries of centuries and only in the present do things happen; countless men in the air, on the face of the earth and the sea, and all that really is happening is happening to me…” -Jorge Luis Borges

The Big Picture is impossibly grand and labyrinthine, but if you trust your instincts, your morals, and your experience to guide you, you will find yourself in the right place. The Galileos and Jobses of our time have shown us that if there is no “right way” to do anything. Nothing is true; everything is permitted. And the time is now. One definitive act is much louder (and much rarer) than a thousand vague words.

Links to previous Lifehack articles:
In Be Secure Enough to Change: “the dissonance produced by conflicting ideas

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In Respect Your (Real) Friendships: “ancient and legendary bond

Featured photo credit:  Raised arms man in the summit of mountain via Shutterstock

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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